The infestation started a month prior. It began with one lurking in the dark. One quickly became two, and soon, there was a pack. It took a couple of days to notice what was happening. Television channels dropped off one by one starting with local access until C.N.N. was the last.
Dave had seen this before, of course. The flesh-eating vermin had been following him as long as he could recall. They were fearsome with their pallor, their stench, their shuffling gait. Their lack of coordination, their looks of confusion, their fear of fire made them humorous, but it took Dave a while to see that side of them.
Once, in Poughkeepsie, he shouted “what do you want?” to a couple that had shadowed him for the better half of a day. The taller one had responded by taking a bite out of his companion’s shoulder. Dave drove out of town that night with his dog and guitar and didn’t stop until he reached Shawnee.
From Shawnee, he went to El Segundo; El Segundo to Conyers. Conyers to Missoula, where he stayed for eleven months – the longest without a sighting.
The landlord’s daughter was the first to be converted. Dave saw her every morning on the way to the temp agency for his new assignment. At first glance, it appeared that she had a touch of flu, but her skin tone was gray and movements were choppy. She was still able to hold a conversation and each morning they talked about the upcoming town election, the church bake sale, or anything else that came up.
Like in every other town, the landlord’s daughter was followed by other town residents. They would watch Dave’s every move with eyes only and then the parade would start. Dave Michaels, the pied piper of the corporeal undead.
Each time he encountered them, there was a modification to their behavior. They stopped smelling. They were more nimble. They developed speech. They worked in convenience stores. They kept pets.
Without notice, the power was cut.
They were getting smarter.
Dave got up from the couch and peered out from the slits in the window blind. He turned to his dog, who became one of them in Agawam. “More zombies, Teddy.”
Teddy didn’t seem surprised by this news. Dave wasn’t either.
He left the window, picked up the flamethrower, and opened the door. There were more than usual. In fact, it was the largest group he had seen. They were standing on the lawn, bodies of all sizes waving like stalks in a field of grain. All ignored the “Trespassers will be engulfed in flame” sign. One stood apart from the rest.
“Mayor Lowell, get this crowd off my lawn. I flame throw without notice.”
The mayor stood with a vacant stare, not giving Dave or the flamethrower the caution it deserved. The crowd’s numbers swelled and seconds ticked by. They all stared at Dave; the mayor tilted his head to the side like Teddy had done countless times and licked his lips. That was new.
“Mayor, I told you to clear this…”
Dave’s words stuck in his throat as in the shadows he saw three figures shambling along. They were back, the original zombies, the ones he ran from originally. Their bodies had reached the final stages of decay, but his old roommates were instantly recognizable.
He heard an explosion and turned to see the mayor’s head erupt in a fountain of blood and bone. An incisor struck Dave in the eye, narrowing his field of vision drastically. It was in that moment he realized that the originals weren’t to be trifled with and had somehow learned to use firearms.
In the next moment, he realized that the flamethrower was no longer in his hand. Or that his hand was attached to his arm. In fact, the arm was lying on the grass a foot away from the flamethrower and what used to be Mayor Lowell. He didn’t feel anything fall off and there was no trace of blood. It made no sense.
He bent down to retrieve the flamethrower with his still-attached hand, but paused. The mayor smelled delectable. The thought didn’t disgust him and that didn’t bother Dave in the least. It actually made him hungry. He bent closer, lifted the mayor’s leg, and sniffed. It reminded him of Beef Bourguignon. A taste confirmed it. Did Dave taste like beef or chicken?
As he went in to sample his hand, he felt pressure enter the left side of his skull and leave through the right. He lost all control and fell to the ground, the world turning to dusk. The world grew silent, punctured with occasional bits of conversation.
“…Finally caught up to him… Evaded us this long… At least a few thousand… How did the dog get…? Now… It’s ended.”